The Ghost of Watt Tyler

Watt Tyler was one of the leaders of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. He was a slain by the King’s supporters after drinking a jug of beer “in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face.”

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Vote Labour (in some places anyway)

I went to a Stop the War rally last night in that hotbed of sedition and kebabs… Hackney. It was very good - despite the rain, last minute change of location (a wake was taking place in the original venue) and the constant drone of traffic from Kingsland Road.

The TV sofa loving Hackney north MP Diane Abbott spoke first about the political intrigues leading up to the war votes in parliament. Although she revealed nothing new it was interesting to be reminded that Blair only scrapped through by lying to the ranks of angry (but gullible) MPs opposed to the then looming military action. She said Blair told individuals and small groups of MPs that: “if you had seen the evidence I’ve seen then you would back the war.” And many of them believed him. But now – according to Abbott – Blair struggles to command much support because so many feel betrayed. After all he would have lost the parliamentary vote on terror legislation had the Lib Dems bothered to turn up. Abbot believes, for instance, he would not be able muster enough support to wage war on Syria or Iran. However I fear she may have overestimated her comrades steel.

Anyway that said I think Abbott deserves the left’s support in the forthcoming election. Yes… she sent her son to a private school. Yes… she sits on a sofa with Michael Portillo and Andrew Neal. Yes... she has said some silly things about gun culture. But on the key question of the war she cannot be faulted: she spoke out before it started and now calls for an immediate end to the occupation. Moreover her voting record is principled and progressive. She appears on Defend Council Housing platforms and at countless other progressive meetings. As her BBC profile puts it:

"In the last parliament she was one of the most rebellious Labour MPs, consistently voting against the government on issues like welfare cuts and military action."

To withdraw support - like a teacher at the meeting suggested to me - would above all damage the anti-imperialist left. And what for? To make a point about hypocrisy that she herself acknowledges. Moreover I suspect we are all guilty of hypocrisy at some level - even if it is just buying basil grown in Israel.

Elsewhere in the my favourite east London borough – the ancient Hackney south MP Brian Sedgemoore is retiring. A new Labour apparatchik – Meg Hillier - has been parachuted in and the local party is none too pleased. Reportedly they wanted a black candidate. Meg Hillier promises to be a loyalist with teeth but she has not spoken out against the war in any meaningful way. Meanwhile both the Greens and Respect have selected candidates.

So, in my humble opinion, vote Labour in Hackney north and Respect or the Greens in Hackney south.